Imaging of the protoelliptical NGC 1700 and its globular cluster system


★ E-mail: (RJNB); (DAF); (DAF); (MK-P); (JPB)


An excellent candidate for a young elliptical, or ‘protoelliptical’ galaxy is NGC 1700. Here we present new B-, V- and I-band imaging using the Keck telescope, and reanalyse existing V- and I-band images from the Hubble Space Telescope. After subtracting a model of the galaxy from the Keck images, NGC 1700 reveals two symmetric tidal tail-like structures. If this interpretation is correct, it suggests a past merger event involving two spiral galaxies. These tails are largely responsible for the ‘boxiness’ of the galaxy isophotes observed at a radius of ∼13 kpc.

We also show that the BI colour distribution of the globular cluster system is bimodal. The mean colour of the blue population is consistent with that of old Galactic globular clusters. Relative to this old, metal-poor population, we find that the red population is younger and more metal-rich. This young population has an age and metallicity similar to that inferred for the central stars, suggesting that both populations are associated with an episode of star formation triggered by the merger that may have formed the galaxy. We find that, although they have large errors, the majority of the age estimates of NGC 1700 are reasonably consistent and we adopt a ‘best estimate’ for the age of 3.0±1.0 Gyr. This relatively low age places NGC 1700 within the age range where there is a notable lack of obvious candidates for protoellipticals. The total globular cluster specific frequency is rather low for a typical elliptical, even after taking into account the fading of the galaxy over the next 10 Gyr. We speculate that NGC 1700 will eventually form a relatively ‘globular cluster poor’ elliptical galaxy.